Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)
The fliers depicting men in camouflage, wielding guns and an American flag, appeared in men’s restrooms throughout Texas State University: “Now that our man Trump is elected,” they said. “Time to organize tar and feather vigilante squads and go arrest and torture those deviant university leaders spouting off that diversity garbage.”
A year after students at campuses nationwide pushed for greater sensitivity toward cultural differences, the distribution of the Texas State fliers was just one of several episodes this week suggesting that the surprise election of Donald Trump is provoking a round of backlash on campuses.
At the same time, universities are trying to address more generalized fears about the country’s future, organizing campus meetings and counseling sessions and sending messages to students urging calm.
“A lot of Muslim students are scared,” said Abdalla Husain, 21, a linguistics major at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, who is of Palestinian ancestry. He said some Muslim students on campus were afraid to go outside. “They’re scared that Trump has empowered people who have hate and would be hostile to them.”
At San Jose State University in California, a Muslim woman complained that she had been grabbed by her hijab and choked. The police are investigating.
At Wellesley College in Massachusetts, alma mater of Hillary Clinton, two male students from nearby Babson College drove through campus in a pickup truck adorned with a large Trump flag, parked outside of a meeting house for black students, and spat at a black female student, according to campus black student organizations.
After being ejected by the campus police, the two students bragged in a video that was widely viewed over social media.
Reports of hostility toward minorities were not limited to university campuses. In Durham, North Carolina, walls facing a busy intersection were painted with graffiti Tuesday night with the message, “Black lives don’t matter and neither does your votes,” according to local news reports.
Also according to local news reports, a baseball dugout in Wellsville, New York, was spray painted with a swastika and the message “Make America white again.” Another swastika, replacing the “T” in Trump, appeared on a storefront in Philadelphia, along with “Sieg heil 2016.”
Incidents were also reported at several high schools. At York County School of Technology in York, Pennsylvania, a video circulated of students carrying a Trump sign and yelling “white power” as they walked through the hall on Wednesday. “The whole situation is absolutely horrible,” someone posted on the PTA’s Facebook page.
Students at Royal Oak Middle School in Royal Oak, Michigan, chanted “build the wall” in the cafeteria on Wednesday, according to a statement by Shawn Lewis-Lakin, the superintendent, who said a video was shared on social media.
Throughout the week, threatening messages on social media against racial and religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people have spiked.
Racist episodes occur regularly at places throughout the United States, including college campuses. Trump’s election, though, seems to have worked as an accelerant.
But the police said that at least some reported incidents on campuses were fake. A Muslim student at the University of Louisiana in Lafayette who said she was attacked Wednesday by two men — one wearing a Trump hat — recanted her story on Thursday, admitting she had made the whole thing up, the police said Thursday.
At Canisius College in Buffalo, in what officials said began as a prank, a black doll was photographed hanging from a curtain rod in a dorm room on Tuesday night. “One student created a meme with language about ‘Trump fans’ and sent it to friends,” a university statement said.
“It’s evident that what may have started as a thoughtless, insensitive prank earlier in the evening in the elevator degraded into a very offensive, inappropriate act later that night,” said the statement by John J. Hurley, the college president.
Just last year, a wave of anti-racism protests broke out on campuses across the country. In response, many universities cracked down on students’ insensitivity, and some fired school administrators. But this week, students began to worry that all their work was fruitless with Trump’s election success. To many, Trump is the champion of anti-political correctness and embodies the opposition to “safe spaces.”
Gay, lesbian and transgender students were also concerned, said Patrick R. Grzanka, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee. “Our lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students are deeply concerned about Trump,” he said. “After enduring months of homophobic and transphobic rhetoric during the campaign, many of us — sexual minorities and gender nonconforming individuals — are asking ourselves, What happens next?”
Liberal-leaning college students around the country, in a state of shock over the election’s outcome, gathered in spontaneous protest marches at some campuses and, at others, asked university leaders to schedule meetings across the campus to reflect on the results.
Tennessee was among a large array of universities — public, private, liberal and conservative — that held meetings for concerned students.
“Join us for a moment of reflection and gathering of solidarity,” the Office of Multicultural Students wrote in an invitation on Wednesday. “Counseling center staff will be available.”
The University of Southern California invited students who had concerns about the election to attend a meeting on Wednesday. About 100 showed up, said Michael Quick, the provost.
“We’re hearing a lot from our students, particularly our Muslim students, given the rhetoric of the campaign,” he said.
“Given the feeling of many students from last year who expressed concerns about diversity and inclusion, now they’re feeling tremendously marginalized,” he added.
Stanford University, in a note signed by its president, Marc Tessier-Lavigne, said it would offer “supportive resources and opportunities to gather together” in the wake of the divisive election season.
Columbia University scheduled what it called a “post-election conversation and reflection” for its students Wednesday afternoon. Earlier in the day, graduate journalism students at Columbia requested a meeting with faculty members.
At Wellesley, which was founded as a safe space for its entirely female student body, the supporters of Trump driving around campus have rattled students, and administrators have sent a flurry of emails to students this week in response to the episode, which is being investigated by the university police.
Wellesley could be considered ground zero for the culture of political correctness that Trump has criticized; in recent decades, it has introduced guidelines for appropriate language and other protections for addressing racial and religious minorities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
After the election, even colleges that are unaccustomed to clashes over race or religion struggled to address student safety concerns while fostering free speech. When administrators at Texas State University in San Marcos, which has a mostly minority student body of more than 38,000, learned Wednesday that protests in the campus quad were growing tense, the university president, Denise M. Trauth, tried to head off conflict by releasing a statement to students.
“Our aim should be to better understand that which causes divisions among us and to work toward strengthening our bond as a university community. Constructive dialogue is the best way to achieve this goal,” she said.
But by late afternoon, the pamphlets depicting men wearing military clothing and bearing arms were already circulating on campus and social media. Denise Cervantes, 20, who writes for the student paper and is Latina, said she was spat on by a male student wearing a Trump 2016 shirt, who told her she did not belong there anymore.
“I didn’t realize that it would get this bad all of a sudden,” Cervantes said.
Thursday evening, Trauth issued a stronger statement labeling the pamphlets vandalism and saying, “Threats absolutely have no place on our campus or in a free society.”
But protests continued throughout the day, and students expressed concern about whether the atmosphere on campus would improve. “This is only two days after,” said Emily Sharp, 21, a senior majoring in communications. “I’m worried that we’re going to see other people doing these things and thinking it’s OK.”
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